Many folks know Alabama as the "Heart of Dixie." But perhaps the state motto should be changed to "Wonderland of Irony."
Unfortunately, we suspect that many Alabamians don't get the irony that is going on right under their noses.
Consider what transpired yesterday in Montgomery, our capital city:
Republican Governor Bob Riley presented his annual State of the State address, focusing heavily on his plans to overhaul the state ethics law. Never mind that Riley, just two years ago, vetoed a tough ethics package that was aimed at members of his cabinet, among others. Now, with his second term beginning to wind down--2010 can't get here soon enough--Riley suddenly is for ethics reform.
That's ironic in itself. But to fully grasp the irony in Montgomery yesterday, you needed to step away from Riley's speech and visit the federal courthouse, where insurance executive John W. Goff was being tried on a variety of corruption charges--pretty much the same charges that were settled in an administrative-law case four years ago.
And who apparently instigated this prosecution against Goff, which appears to be a classic case of double jeopardy and political prosecution? Why, none other than Governor Riley himself.
According to reports from Harper's Scott Horton, Riley began pushing the U.S. Attorney's Office for the prosecution after Goff filed a lawsuit against Riley and other GOP operatives, claiming they had conspired to ruin his lucrative business. The suit included allegations that Riley and his son, Birmingham lawyer Rob Riley, had wrongfully laundered Mississippi casino money for the 2002 Alabama governor's race through their connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his partner, Michael Scanlon.
Riley did not want anyone looking into his ties to Abramoff. And U.S. Attorney Leura Canary, the wife of Riley associate Bill Canary, was more than happy to help take the heat off Teflon Bob.
That's why John W. Goff is being tried on trumped-up criminal charges. But did anyone in Alabama's mainstream press raise questions about Riley's own questionable ethics? Apparently not.
In recent days, we've had quotes like this from Riley: "This state will never be as good as it can be until we have ethical standards and transparency."
But does Riley seek transparency regarding his own actions? Consider some of Riley's apparent ethical lapses the press could have asked about:
* Votes for Don Siegelman that mysteriously disappeared overnight in Baldwin County, giving Riley a "victory" in the 2002 election;
* Contributions from wealthy Riley supporters that resulted in millions of state dollars going to a biotech center in Huntsville, which essentially duplicates facilities already present in Birmingham;
* Curious state contracts that seem to have wound up with family members and other Riley associates;
* Millions of Mississippi Indian gaming money that helped fund Riley's 2002 campaign;
* An e-mail that proved Riley's connections to Jack Abramoff, but was covered up by U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ);
* Possible violations of campaign-finance laws, a story that was ignored by Alabama's mainstream press;
Someone might ask Riley exactly what role he did play in the Goff prosecution.
And while they are at it, they might ask what role Riley's lieutenants played in my unlawful termination at UAB. I've been intrigued by audiotaped evidence that proves UAB officials were concerned about my support in the blogosphere for Don Siegelman, Riley's one-time opponent. Think anyone in the Riley camp might have wanted to shut me up once they discovered that I worked at a state university?
In a perverse way, you almost have to give Riley credit. It takes a pair of big brass ones to push for ethics reform while carrying massive loads of ethical baggage yourself.
But Riley's actions really have nothing to do with boldness or courage. He knows that most Alabamians won't even pick up on his blatant hypocrisy. And he knows no one in the state press corps will fire uncomfortable questions at him.
Hey, he's Goober Bob Riley, the governor who wears cowboy boots and sports a swooped-back Reaganesque hairdo--which we can be sure he never dyes because, like The Gipper, Goober Bob is a genetically superior being who is not prone to getting gray hair.
Bob Riley might be a goober, but he's smart enough to know that he lives in a "Wonderland of Irony." And he takes full advantage of it.